Pilot project first step in Baylor partnership with Compassion

The Baylor seal is seen at the Burleson Quadrangle on campus. (Photo / Baylor Marketing and Communication)

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A major multidisciplinary partnership between Baylor University and Compassion International that could make an impact on global child poverty has launched with an online education pilot project involving a few bilingual pastors in Guatemala.

“Dream big. Test small,” said Mike Cookson, director of strategic partnerships at Compassion International, a Christian child-sponsorship agency that works in 25 countries.

In time, Baylor anticipates wide-ranging research across multiple academic disciplines to help Compassion International understand better the root causes that prevent children in poverty from flourishing, said Lori Baker, vice provost and professor of anthropology at Baylor.

“We’re looking at a lot of seedlings,” Baker said, referring to potential projects that may grow into significant initiatives spanning Baylor’s 12 colleges and schools.

Both the university and the child-sponsorship agency also hope to engage the rising generation of Christian leaders in ministries that help children to be freed from the grip of poverty.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to partner with Baylor to help release even more children from poverty in Jesus’ name,” said Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, CEO of Compassion International, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Innovating with a premier academic and research institution who shares our faith and our passion to serve the world’s most vulnerable children will be nothing short of transformational. Even in this early stage, I’m seeing how this partnership will expand our reach and impact to better care for more than 2.2 million children living in unacceptable poverty.”

Certificate program for Guatemalan ministers

The first tangible example of the partnership begins this week when eight pastors in Guatemala start an eight-week online certificate-level training program offered through Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary.

Truett 300In August 2018, Dean Todd Still of Truett Seminary participated with other Baylor representatives in an “immersion experience” in Guatemala through Compassion International.

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“We went to do a lot of listening,” Still said.

At one point, he recalled asking a ministry leader in Guatemala, “If there is a way we could serve you, how could we best do so?”

Still learned pastors of Compassion International’s partner churches in Guatemala feel a need for additional theological education and ministry training.

So, he talked with David Tate, director of Truett Seminary’s online certificate program, about developing a program for ministers in Central America.

Rather than simply translate material into Spanish, Tate proposed a pilot project to evaluate Truett’s current certificate curriculum and determine how it can be made more culturally relevant and appropriate for Latin American pastors.

Working with Leonel Xuyá, national director for Compassion International in Guatemala, Truett enlisted eight bilingual pastors in Guatemala who agreed to take the introductory-level certificate program course, which focuses on adult learning skills and spiritual formation.

“They will go through the current English program with no changes, and we’re asking them to give us feedback,” Tate explained.

Expand into other Latin American countries

The initial cohort will meet via Zoom with facilitator Alejandro Gómez, assistant of partnership for Compassion International in Guatemala. The pastors will offer observations and critique of the program during listening sessions after four weeks and again when they complete the first course. Those observations will shape how Truett develops its Spanish-language certificate program for Latin American ministers.

Even before the first course began, Truett learned a lesson about how to deliver content more effectively, when the initial shipment of books and printed materials was held up in customs for an extended time, Tate noted.

“We will need to adapt to another format, either digital or video,” he observed.

Todd Still

Early next year, the group will begin a 12-week course in biblical interpretation, with opportunities for participants to provide feedback about how to make the course a culturally contextual learning experience.

“Baylor’s Truett Seminary exists to equip God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s church by the power of the Holy Spirit. That we could partner with our friends and colleagues at Compassion to offer theological education to Guatemalan pastors delights and excites me,” Still said.

“Additionally, I hope this important pilot project is but the beginning of an ongoing collaboration between Compassion and Truett in making theological study and ministerial training increasingly accessible to Spanish-speaking Christ-followers within our respective networks.”

Once the pilot project is completed, Compassion International and Truett Seminary plan to expand elsewhere in Latin America—particularly, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. Each step of the way, Truett will continue to evaluate its curriculum to make it culturally contextual.

“How much we need to adapt it will depend on the length of the cultural bridge,” Tate said.

Truett Seminary has been “constantly refining” its certificate program since its inception, he added. Since the program went online in January 2015, more than 700 students have enrolled, and the seminary has awarded 150 certificates. In the previous five years, 244 students enrolled in the certificate program, and the seminary awarded 49 certificates.

As Truett evaluates the content of its certificate curriculum, the seminary not only will seek to learn from the culture and background of the pastors in Guatemala, but also from the spiritual wisdom they have to offer, Still insisted.

Meeting the needs of churches

Compassion International considers the pilot pastor-training project an appropriate first step in its partnership with Baylor, Cookson noted.

“At Compassion, we talk about the ‘three Cs’ of our mission. We are Christ-centered, child-focused and church-based,” he said.

While the agency’s Christian commitment and focus on children is obvious, its church-based approach to ministry sometimes is not as widely understood but is vitally important, he emphasized.

Serving the church—whether in Texas or globally—is central to Truett Seminary’s mission and to Baylor’s motto, Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana, Still noted. He called the pilot program in Guatemala “a mustard seed beginning to something that could be consequential—dare I say maybe even monumental— for kingdom purposes.”

Baylor President Linda Livingstone concurred, describing Baylor and Compassion International as “two faith-based organizations whose complementary programmatic capabilities and research expertise will serve communities around the world, as well as enhance both organizations’ growth.”

“Our Christ-centered collaboration will expand the kingdom of God through a diversity of initiatives, including this initial effort to equip pastors in Guatemala with critical training as a component of the Baylor in Latin America initiative within our Illuminate strategic plan,” she said, referring to the university’s strategic academic plan to expand Baylor’s impact as a Christian research university.

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